3 Steps to Slash the Risk of Insider Threats

Andrea Danti/Shutterstock.com

Agencies need to think of security across three areas: phsyical, technical and behavioral.

Steve Gottwals is technical director of security solutions at Adobe

Across government, agencies are faced with a cyberthreat landscape continuously evolving and increasing in scope and complexity. In one year, data breaches exposed 17.3 million documents costing agencies an estimated $860,000 in data loss and downtime. According to agency reports, there were 15 percent more information security incidents between fiscal year 2013 and 2014.

3 Steps to Slash Threat Risk

As sensitive information continues to increase in volume, so do potential threats to its security. Information exists across multiple devices – laptops, smartphones, tablets and cloud storage – creating ample opportunity for both accidental and intentional data compromise and loss. Information security and regulatory compliance are major reasons why agencies must consider security at every step in the content life cycle.

There are three fundamental components of information protection – physical, technical and behavioral. To create a strong and effective defense against internal and external threats, these elements must work together.

Step 1: Physical

Examples of physical security controls include video camera surveillance, security guards, protective barriers and locks. Along with these measures, other access control protocols such as observations about the individual, time of day, individual appearance or how one responds to questions are all important considerations before permissions are granted.

Organizations can minimize insider threats by using similar techniques to control the access to sensitive information by employing an attribute-based access control, or ABAC model. ABAC is a powerful concept that relies on restricting access to certain information, providing an extra level of protective controls.

With an ABAC system, any content – paragraphs, images, videos, titles and bullet points – can be protected with separate security policies. With each object being distinctly tagged with a security marking, users or groups of users will be limited to viewing only those items or portions of documents they are authorized to see, depending on their individual security attributes such as clearance level, environmental variables or physical location.

Step 2: Technical

Day in and day out, classified documents and sensitive information are exchanged between agencies, contractors, industry and other vendors within the supply chain. Every time content is distributed from one stakeholder to the next, the potential for insiders to misuse or accidentally leak information exists.

Many agencies are turning to encryption and other methods to ensure their cyber infrastructure is safe, secure and reliable. The problem is that not all encryption methods are the same. Relying solely on hard-disk encryption, for example, creates opportunities for content to leave sensitive networks and the potential for cyberattacks to occur.

A better technical approach is to employ additional layers of encryption, like user-based encryption, specifically digital rights management. Because DRM-based encryption is user-centric and ties back to the person who needs to gain access, it continually protects sensitive information no matter where it goes or how it is stored.

By encrypting the entire file, individuals who want to access the information are required to authenticate themselves. Unusual viewing attempts can be detected and immediately revoked via remote shredding if necessary.  

Step 3: Behavioral

Examining the profiles of individuals who access an organization’s protected information can help pinpoint unusual or suspicious activity. Anomalies can be detected by looking at a person’s behavior – such as what content is accessed, when and how often it is accessed and what is being done with the content. 

These profiles provide a baseline knowledge of that individual and are key to understanding if and when significant differences occur such as attempting access from different locations, printing a higher than normal number of documents or multiple failed authentication attempts.

By analyzing behavioral models and anomaly detection algorithms for red flags, any abnormal or out-of-the-ordinary events will stand out, including the detection of potential security breaches. Incorporating continuous monitoring of all the content an organization creates, collects and disseminates can provide even greater protection.

Content Security at All Times

To best protect an organization’s information, agencies must make it a priority to reinforce their current strategies against data breaches and cyber threats by focusing on the entire content life cycle including the physical, technical and behavioral. As the number of more serious and more sophisticated compromises continues to increase, these protective safeguards are an imperative for insider threat prevention.

(Image via Andrea Danti/Shutterstock.com)